In Brief: It has king in the title but it’s not really the king of anything. Not even Staten Island. What it is, however, is the funniest movie of the year.
The movie is The King of Staten Island. All the film has in common with the title is that it’s done in the Staten Island borough of New York City. Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson stars. What he has in common with is Staten Island roots and what he has in common with SNL is laughs.
In The King of Staten Island Davidson shares a few of them with you.
Davidson plays Scott Carlin. He’s the son of a firefighter who died trying to save people in a fire. Scott is in his early 20s, self-absorbed and still lives with his mom. He wants to be a tattoo artist and has some talent but not really enough to ever make it in the biz.
So at the point we meet him in the movie, Scott is still trying — he notes — to figure it out.
Kelsey is his almost girlfriend. She wants something deeper than just occasional sex. Anything emotionally deep and personal is a puzzle that Scott doesn’t want to touch. So he can’t quite figure that one out either.
Things grow even worse for Scott and his pathetic, preoccupied life when his mom meets and falls in love with Ray. He’s also a fireman and knew Scott’s dad and her late husband. Scott’s relationship with Ray is instantly oil and water and from there it devolves into outright loathing. In some ways he’s never forgiven his father for dying. He takes much of that frustration out on Ray.
On the surface the description of the plot of The King of Staten Island sounds as shallow as Scott Carlin. It is, and it isn’t. The isn’t part is because of the writing.
Davidson and director Judd Apatow (Funny People, Knocked-Up) co-wrote the film with Dave Sirus who was an SNL writer a few years back. The story is based on Davidson’s life. His father Scott was a real-life firefighter who died trying to save people in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
At first Scott’s life unfolds as a two-dimensional comedy featuring two-dimensional characters trying to navigate a three-dimensional world. This is an odd way to say it but the movie is boring in a good way. Once you get to the second act, something magical happens. Apatow, Davidson and Sirus give a critical third dimension to the movie.
Not to the characters. Just the movie.
Three-dimensions for the characters happens in the third act. It is by then you get to know and to understand Scott. He has grown on you. We all experience pain in our lives. Some of that pain is beyond our control and some of it is self-inflicted. Much of Scott’s is of the self-inflicted variety.
And who among us hasn’t seen a lot of gallows humor in our own self-inflicted pain?
This is where the laugh-packed script and Apatow’s skilled storytelling come into play. And by the way, this is the best Apatow has ever been. This one is brilliantly written and directed and is loaded with some really funny one-liners that the gaunt, tattooed top-to-bottom Davidson tosses out with ease.
But Davidson has more depth to him than just that of a funny man. He has a sad sack demeanor that is as endearing as it is a turnoff. You can’t stand the guy but at the same time you can’t help but love him.
While Davidson does the heavy lifting he also gets a huge helping hand from a supporting cast that includes Marisa Tomei as his doting mom, Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) and Apatow’s talented daughter Maude Apatow.
However, it is Bill Burr (creator of TV’s animated show F is for Family) who helps Davidson most with his lifting chores. He plays Ray with all the sincerity that we attribute to those door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen from eons ago. You don’t believe much of anything he says and you don’t think the guy is right for Scott’s mom anymore than Scott does.
Their back and forth is fun in places and tiring in others but it gets real interesting in the third act.
If you watch SNL then you know Davidson is a funny guy. Considering the material, and his real life experiences, you quickly learn Davidson also has a quite serious side. So a good definition of Davidson — at least from this movie’s point of view — is that he is seriously funny.
He has also co-written and stars in a serious but also very funny movie.
Director: Judd Apatow
Stars: Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Bel Powley, Rickey Velez, Moises Arias, Lou Wilson, Maude Apatow
At a time when we could really use some laughs, along comes The King of Staten Island. It’s a a very funny serious movie.
You can find The King of Staten Island on a number of streaming sources.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.